They Will Thank Us in the Future: Help the Kids Who are Hurting

There’s too much silence when it comes to talk of mental health issues and kids. That is, too much silence for the right things, for the soul and the need for heart-comfort, while there is so much vocal fear of societal alienation. Total anonymity, as an attempt to protect the sufferer when they are minors, only isolates them more. By keeping news of mental suffering secret from the people who would really help them, the suffering young person does not find relief.

Obviously, there are the right and wrong people to tell, but the trustworthy pool of people for every young person needs to be widened. Once, I was at a staff meeting at the private elementary school I worked at. The topic of the meeting was student health protocols. We talked about asthma, Epi-pens, seizures, diabetes, concussions, broken arms. We named names in confidence and protection of this sensitive information, but discussed these cases openly as it related to our ability to help these kids. I asked if there are children with mental health diagnoses we should know about. I was met with a glare from my middle manager, a ring of silence.

“That kind of thing is usually only shared with the school counselor,” said the director.

“And only if the parent chooses to share it.”

So, a parent’s social fear increases a child’s social fear, and the terror of stigma is passed on from parent to child. And that kind of thing, with all the stigma already implied in the manager’s voice, persists.

This is all incredibly stupid and isolates people, making the condition itself even worse. People with diabetes or cancer don’t get the same treatment. Depression, anxiety, PTSD; all these thrive on silence, isolation and shame. At the very least, all the adult professionals responsible for a child’s wellbeing, including teachers and childcare workers, should be entrusted with this information and taught what to do with it, how to appropriately protect it, and how to understand and take care of the child who has it, no differently than a child with severe asthma or a broken bone. It helps enormously to know what a kid is going through: whether their inappropriate behavior is merely a cranky growth phase for a kid, or if there’s something more serious underneath, such as depression, trauma or the death of a loved one.

Some of the same stigma follows diseases such as AIDS. Treat all blood as if it’s contaminated, says the protocol. I worry that this is ultimately bad for humanity, to suspect that all blood is awful and dirty and carrying contagious death. It would be better to have compassion on those who certifiably have a blood-borne pathogen, treating them with respect and the care they need, but openly, so that we do not live with the terror of our own human blood.

I’ve worked in after-school childcare programs that deal with these things. I was siting with a second grade girl and a first grade boy one day, coloring pictures together. I commented on how pretty those flowery paper decorations are on the wall, the ones we pulled out of the leftover bin in the supplies closet. The little boy said, somberly,

“Those are from A’s dad’s memorial.”

“What?!” was my response. “Did he die?”

Both kids looked at me like I was an idiot who hadn’t heard.

“We all stood in a circle to sing and remember him,” said the little girl.

Apparently everyone knew except me. A was a fifth grade boy at the time who who was a regular in the after-school program. He had been misbehaving only a little, but I noticed many other adults coming by to tenderly ask him how he is doing. The program director hugged his mother. I wondered what happened, but figured that if it was my business, someone would tell me. But it turns out it sure was my business. I had missed a mere email relaying the news –really, a damn email announcing the death of a parent we all knew. I found out from two small children what I should’ve heard verbally from my adult colleagues. Good thing I didn’t say, “Hey, A, is your dad picking you up today?” –totally not knowing why that would devastate him. It was part of my job to interact with the parents at pick-up time and get the kids signed in and out. This was something I needed to know.

… … …

A younger relative of mine, when she was sixteen, went through a terrible episode of self harm and depression. I remember that I had called and emailed her to just ask how things are going, wanting to hear her voice. I had no knowledge of what she was going through. She had been hospitalized, the whole psychiatric works, and I didn’t know. Her mom had to clear the house of all objects my young relative could hurt herself with. It turned out her parents were also getting a divorce at the time, further breaking my family apart, and I didn’t know about it.

This, a family, isn’t some legalistic place of employment, but a paper-free biological web of relationships, of deeply personal memories, bound by ancestors and land. The human family should be there for its own more than any other human social unit in the world.

I pulled the truth out of my reluctant uncle, spilling the beans, and my grandmother, thwarting this life-threatening silencing.

“But I was trying to protect her privacy,” he said. 

Yeah, I thought, and you’re  also protecting the growth of her silence, shame and isolation while your at it.

And maybe my young relative did, at age sixteen, want all this to be kept a secret, but that didn’t make it the wise thing to do. Luckily, this story concludes well for her sake: she’s come far from those days and, last I knew, is doing extraordinarily better as a young graduate of high school confidently heading to college. I’m enormously proud of her, and relived that she was supported. And I still miss my family, the few who are left, more than I can say.

We are supposed to protect and empower minors. To hell with their massing embarrassment when real help is on the line. A good adult will know how to meet that feeling of shame with deep honor and respect for the young person, so that they know they do not have to feel ashamed in the first place. They’re not able to help themselves yet. They will thank us in the future.

 

 

 

Recomposed from an original journal entry written September 1st, 2016

On Intelligence

The Webster dictionary definition really hits the nail on the head when it defines “Intelligence” as successfully learning through experience and adaptation. The naturalist in me respects how this brings learning back to it’s animal roots: intelligence stems from an ecosystem which demands keen awareness and sensitivity to one’s environment to survive and thrive. Our environment isn’t what it used to be, but our instinct to adaptive learning is now more crucial than ever. Though the contemporary of cognitively acquisition of knowledge through books and words (compared to skills learned physically, in immediate circumstances) has tremendous value, a return is needed to the experiential, physical, responsive learning of our instincts. This will be necessary to ameliorating many of the ills of our modern educational system.

In the discipline of “book-learning” is the elitist attitude of ridiculing “street-smarts” as a somehow lesser form of “smarts”. This experience-based learning is assumed to only be relevant to the roughest city streets of disenfranchised youths. It is not respected as a way of learning so essential for survival as complete humans. Comfortable Americans maintain this misunderstanding because this instinctual way of acquiring knowledge arises naturally in people who must remain aware of their immediate physical environment to survive, such as in inner-city neighborhoods, unlike the privileged who are accustomed to living in their heads (or tuned-out in their head-phones) all the time.

I want to acknowledge, however, that the stresses of living in embattled environments should not be romanticized. A hostile environment can compel those on the edge of survival to use their energy for more immediate demands, such as escaping a physical threat, thereby leaving less room for softer sensory awareness. Yet this can also, paradoxically, be a direct link into greater environmental sensitivity.

To grow up with intelligence and awareness, of any useful kind, is to come to terms with the world. To face adulthood is to leave the teenage time of endless battles and accept which struggles are worth your morning coffee. If I ever get the great honor and privilege of mentoring teenagers, I will try to put this understanding into their minds without overpowering them, but encouraging them to discover these truths. A good teacher or mentor is to lead them in reverence for the path, with wisdom to alarm them of unseen snakes in tall grass, as was the way of all ancestors for their young initiates. But a good teacher accepts that these young ones must necessarily be wounded –the old primal wound of the psyche coming to terms with the harsh and beautiful way of the world– to “die” to their childhoods. Elders must protect and defend the young while yet getting out of their way. The young people are to be put in charge for a change, which too many adults live in fear of acknowledging, and so put their children in trouble on the road ahead. But if the young are taught well, and learn intelligence by experiencing and witnessing the living, active wisdom of the old, we who are older should have nothing to fear when it comes time to hand them the wheel (the driving wheel, or the wheel of life!).

The Kid With the Headphones

 

It’s become a usual complaint that too many young people walk around with headphones in their ears, unaware of others, of their environment, cut off from the world. I understand it’s problematic, even unhealthy to be so out of touch with our surroundings. But I’m hesitant to criticize people about this, especially the youth. There’s a reason they do this.

The world, the present urban environment, feels spiritually cold, numb, violent and alienating to many people, especially kids coming of age. Of course you’d try to escape, and music is a noble place to start. There are worse diversions. My hope is that people will not finally stop at an escape from their environment, but instead, use their love of music and experience of alienation from the world to re-enter the world powerfully and empathically, to attempt to heal it not through force, but through romance. Empathically, because the shared experience of any pain should turn to solidarity, and ultimately, the finding of new life for people who suffer, knowing they aren’t alone. To suffer alienation from one’s surroundings is awful, and youth especially feel this but don’t have the words or confidence to communicate it. The rest of us can do more than self-righteously chastise kids for their methods of coping.

The task of imparting a new relationship with the world falls especially into the hands of nature connection mentors, and any who teach, who guide, who counsel, and whose work is at all in those fearfully embattled places of contemporary childhood and youth. There are many right ways of rehabilitating young humanity’s impaired relationship with the living world.

Adults who work with kids are emphatically called to respecting the interior life of the soul, a practice severely lacking in the immaturity of cities. The private and sensual place of the imagination, like the good dark night after insanity’s day, are vital to the wellbeing of the spiritually intact person, and to the youth who watch us. If the interior life is not nurtured then addictions, obsessions, and disassociation will fill the void.

I’ve heard one of the root meanings of “entertain” is “to divert the heart”. This is eerily fitting. Entertainment has, obviously, become so often a form of checking-out of reality, buying an hour of soothing fantasies to escape the world. This can be done in a way of better awareness: “entertainment” may also be used, in it’s most noblest form, to “divert the heart” back into the eternal heart of the beauty and grace of the real world. Right here is the power and joy we all crave in every large and small inclination of the heart, and here is the map of the world from which all other make-believe worlds are dreamt. Life on earth is the finest inspiration to how life on earth should actually be. Everywhere the soul of the world itself comes to our aid. The world at large, shared between people, is not empty. Even so, I can’t complain if a kid girds himself with headphones instead of guns.

 

Images © Gentle J. Pine. All rights reserved.

She Finds For Us a Way

A dream.

My horse I am riding is trying to jump us over an impossible fence. The barricade is made of something harder than stone, but barely a few feet high. What forcefield barrier is this? On one side of the divide is a freeway, and on the other side, an ancient forest. The trees in this forest are taller than the guess of humans, and beyond the reach of measurements. I cannot jump my horse over this fence, but she finds for us a way. A mob is sending battalions to catch us. But we are far above now, clothed by the forest. My horse and I jump and fly through the canopy, invisible to the eyes of the enemy.

 

 

image source: public domain

The Language of Shaping

I dreamt that I opened a homeless shelter for runaway teenagers and dispossessed young adults in downtown Fresno, California. We transformed an old factory building, with those picturesque old glass block factory windows, into a safe house of refuge and welcome for young people in crisis. When the people were ready to leave, they left empowered by good food, deep rest and a clean, upright mind. Angels walked the hallways and isles between beds and desks, leaving tracks of luminescent pigments of greens, purples and golds. How beautiful it was.

In those dreams I spoke that language too, the first language, and I had dominion over the nature of all that was real. In my dream, it was the tongue of what is, and anything spoken in it becomes real, because nothing said in that language can be a lie. It is the most basic building brick of everything. In my dreams I have used that language to heal the sick and to fly; once I dreamed I kept a perfect little bed-and-breakfast by the seaside, and to everyone who came to stay with me I would say, in that tongue, “Be whole,” and they would become whole, not be broken people, not any longer, because I had spoken the language of shaping.” –Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

 

 

image source: public domain

Two Dreams From 2007

These two dreams, excavated from an old dream journal, I dreamt sometime in 2007, when I was aged 16 or 17.

 

The desert is endless in all directions. I drag my feet forward, increasingly hopeless, but a sparkle of bright blue catches my eye. It is a pool of water beneath a sudden spring. I look into the water, and at the bottom is an astounding mosaic, many tiles of colors forming the image of a mermaid. The water is singing. I go in, and I am refreshed.

…….

I am in a ditch of crocodiles, trapped and surrounded. The sides are too steep to escape. They are about to kill me, when my fist transforms into a ball of iron spikes, and I am filled with courage. As the reptiles’ jaws lock around my fist I destroy them each, and find the power to jump out of the ditch.

 

Image source: public domain

Two Dreams from 2006

These two dreams, excavated from an old dream journal, I dreamt sometime in 2006, when I was aged 15 or 16.

….

At the end of a long canyon trail is a mysterious phone booth. *0 takes me to the edge of the known universe.

….

I am dueling with candlesticks. I go up against a man with a sharp metal sword who tries to overtake me, but he is stayed by my candlestick, which glows at the wick and will not break. It is no ordinary rose-colored wax. With this light I fight and defeat him.

 

Image source: public domain